Should the Capitals Trade Marcus Johansson?

When developing players, organizations often come to crossroads.  Is this guy who we really thought he was?  Do we want to build around him? Is he expendable, or an untouchable?

Among many fans and media, such has become of Marcus Johansson.

The 21-year-old Swedish center, who recently finished his second season in the NHL, has not been terrible in his two seasons in a Washington sweater.  After recording 13 goals and 14 assists in his rookie season, he took a big step forward in terms of point production this year, scoring 14 goals and adding 32 assists for 42 points.

Those are not stellar numbers by any stretch of the imagination but they are not terrible. And with any young player, patience must be a virtue – expecting a late first round pick to contribute at a top level right away is unrealistic.  But would the Capitals be better off trading Johansson?

First, it is important to take a look at Johansson’s more advanced metrics, beginning with puck possession.  In both of his two years as a Capital, Johansson has been a poor puck possessor, ranking second to last among forwards in corsi rating in both 2010-11 and 2011-12.  His rookie year, he did it against tough minutes (the toughest on the team among forwards, in fact), but last year, his minutes were right in the middle and his corsi was still bad.  Moreover, Johansson’s PDO – which measures “puck luck,” was above 1000 each of his first two seasons, indicating a bit of luck.  Eventually, that would regress.  For a player many are hoping breaks out this upcoming season, the signs are not looking very good.

It is not fair, however, to judge Johansson just on his offensive numbers.  Looking more to the defensive aspect of his game, that too has not been particularly good.  Johansson only averaged 32 seconds of shorthanded ice time this year, a significant tick downwards from the almost 1:10 he saw in that situation last season.  His faceoff skills have also remained anemic, posting a 40% winning percentage on the dot in 2010-11 and only 43.2 in 2011-12.  Both of those numbers were last on the team among regular centers.

Is Marcus an untouchable? Read on here.

For a player who was drafted as a center and, for all intents and purposes, hopes to be a center long term, none of these numbers are good.  Especially when you consider that Johansson was given the opportunity to center Alex Ovechkin for 40 games when Nicklas Backstrom got hurt, as well as time with t he man advantage.

Which brings us back to the original question.  Just how good is Johansson, and should the Caps consider trade him?

I think that Johansson has the potential to be a very good player in this league.  He has some skill and he always profiled as a good defensive forward who could be able to slot in around 70 points.  It’s also important to recognize that his salary cap hit is only $900,000, which is very valuable for a guy with top six upside – before he reaches restricted free agency next summer.

But there is no doubt that the Capitals need a top six forward – maybe two.  They probably will be able to sign one in free agency, but not two.  Which means that if they are to get a second, they will need to do it via trade.  And I do believe that Johansson could (and would probably be needed to) be included in that deal, if it were to come to pass.

Johansson is a fine player, but with Mike Ribeiro now on board, he’s no longer going to play a top six center role.  He could be a top six winger, but I don’t think that would work out very well, not only for his development, but because he’s not very big and looked out of place on the wing with the big guns in the playoffs.  Brooks Laich should hold down the third line center spot, too, as Johansson’s lack of physicality and poor faceoffs would make him a bad choice for that line.  Heading in to training camp, he has no clearly defined role.  That’s bad.

I’m not saying give him away and get what you can now.  That would make almost zero sense.  He’s a good young player, and perhaps his best years are ahead of him.  After all, Ryan Kesler and Corey Perry both scored fewer points in their second years than Johansson did, and giving up on a 21-year-old would be astronomically silly.

But if the right deal comes along – absolutely, because this team needs to try and start winning now. 

And Marcus Johansson may not be part of the now.  Not anymore, at least.

Harry Hawkings is a college student who is credentialed to cover the Capitals for RtR.  Follow him on Twitter here.

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